Jon Rahm storms into lead at Players Championship

Jon Rahm felt like every shot would be good and most of them were Saturday as he posted an 8-under 64 and built a one-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood in The Players Championship at Ponte Verde Beach, Fla.

Five shots behind going into the third round, Rahm shot 30 on the back nine at the TPC Sawgrass and surged into the lead when McIlroy and Fleetwood couldn’t keep pace. His only bogey was on the sixth hole, and even that landed next to the pin until running over the back.

“Didn’t miss many shots out there,” Rahm said. “Really, really confident with my irons. Every time I stepped up, I felt like I was going to hit a good shot.”

There were too many to single out for the 24-year-old Spaniard, who was at 15-under 201 and will go for his third PGA Tour title in his fourth year on tour.

McIlroy and Fleetwood struggled from the start and both eventually recovered, McIlroy sooner than Fleetwood.

McIlroy muffed a chip and had to scramble for bogey on the opening hole, hit a chip over the green on the par-5 second hole and turned potential birdie into bogey, and that was as bad as it got. He still was under par at the turn by running off three birdies, including a 4-iron to a foot on the hardest par-3 on the course at No. 8.

But after a two-putt birdie on the par-5 11th, McIlroy’s chances dried up. Even on the par-5 16th, he tried a low runner out of the pine trees and it came out so hot that it ran through the green and into the water.

Even so, he was bogey-free over the last 16 holes and shot 70. And he can at least avoid questions about winning from the final group, something McIlroy hasn’t done in his last nine occasions dating to the start of 2018.

“I just need to hit fairways and greens. If I can do that, and take the opportunities I give myself, hopefully I can turn tomorrow into the best Sunday of the year so far,” McIlroy said.

Fleetwood missed a 30-inch putt on the opening hole and took double bogey, and he fell three shots behind through seven holes. He holed a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 8 after McIlroy tapped in for his birdie, and then picked up four birdies where they were available for his 70.

“It was just a grind,” he said. “I’m glad I showed the strength mentally more than anything. Under par is always a good score around here no matter how you play.”

Jason Day had a 68 and was three shots behind.

Tiger Woods was five shots better on the par-3 17th — a quadruple bogey on Friday, a 2-foot birdie putt on Saturday — but still started so slowly that even a late run of birdies was only good for a 72. He was 12 shots behind in his last stroke-play event before the Masters.

Five players were within five shots of Rahm, the deficit the Spaniard made up on Saturday. That group included Brandt Snedeker (65) and Keegan Bradley (68), and Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world who played the par-5s at even and still shot a 69.

S.F. championship: Jason Anthony, seeking to become the first back-to-back men’s winner of “The City” since 1996, earned a 2-up semifinal victory over Bobby Bucey to advance to Sunday’s finals at Harding Park. Anthony, from Fairfield, earlier defeated Brett Viboch, 4 and 3, in Saturday morning’s quarterfinals.

Anthony will face Evan Peterson in Sunday’s 36-hole title match. Peterson, a junior at St. Mary’s College, cruised to two decisive victories Saturday, beating William Parker in the quarterfinals (5 and 4) and Tony Verna in the semis (6 and 5).

Danielle Suh, a 17-year-old high school junior from San Ramon, moved into the women’s championship match. She beat Aishvarya Bedi in the quarterfinals (3 and 2) and Madelyn Gamble in the semis (2 and 1). Suh will meet Aman Sangha of San Mateo, who won her semifinal match against Marie Dean in 19 holes.

— Ron Kroichick

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